While it's not a 26-foot upskirt sculpture of Marilyn Monroe, that is a life-size version of the Hollywood icon on one of the pedestrian plazas along Broadway near Times Square. It's part of the Garment District Alliance's new public art offering, a retrospective of sculptor Seward Johnson's work.
The Garment District Alliance has been bringing art to the stretch of Broadway between 36th to 41st Streets for the past six years. However, the proximity of these sculptures to Times Square prompted Gail, a British tourist visiting the city, to ask, "Is this part of Madame Tussaud's? To advertise their place?"
A press release explains:
Depicting iconic moments in American cultural history, the sculptures presented in Icons Revisited symbolize the public’s embrace of particular notable figures and their influence on society. Seward Johnson in New York will feature: Forever Marilyn; Return Visit; God Bless America; and Embracing Peace, the latter being the WW II sailor and nurse kissing that originated in Times Square.
Mr. Johnson highlights ordinary people engaged in everyday activities in Celebrating the Familiar, creating a special sculptural experience that fascinates viewers and invites the public to become a part of the artwork. The Seward Johnson in New York exhibition will showcase: Special Delivery; Holding Out; Relish, Too?; Frequent Flyers; Sidewalk Concert; Things to Do; Los Mariachis; and The Photo Shoot.
Then there's Beyond the Frame, which features tableaux from Impressionist paintings or even artist Claude Monet painting Times Square.
Vladimir Spencer, who works in the neighborhood, showed us some of the photos he took posing with the sculptures as he walked south on Broadway. We caught him sitting at one of the Beyond the Frame sculptures, taking a seflie. He said The Mariachis were particularly realistic: "I thought they were posing" before he walked closer and realized they were in fact art. "They keep surprising me as I walk further," Spencer added.
However, Rachel Prescott and Aisha Bryan, colleagues who work in a nearby office, found them a bit unnerving. "I think it's creepy and hysterical at the same time," Bryan said, explaining that the works just seemed "random" to them. Bryan added that the GDA always seemed to be "putting up the weirdest" public art and recalled a "garbage statue" from last year (it appears to be this work made from recycled tires and stainless steel).
The pair likes public art, but wished the works had more of a connection to the Garment District, "Why not something fashion-related?" Prescott said, "This feels like it's the Upper East Side."
I emailed photographs of some of the sculptures to Gothamist managing editor John Del Signore, who said, "I'm sorry, these are creepy and very Shelbyville... These look like sculptures that were rejected by an upstate New York amusement park because they were too goofy looking."
I thought that, too, based on my initial look at photographs, but when I actually saw the sculptures in person, I was impressed with the level of detail and craftsmanship. For instance, the businesswoman's suit was so textured that it looked like real fabrics. And the purse next to her was very realistic as well. And the woman in La Promenade, one of the Impressionist sculptures, has a veil on her hat that looked so delicate, but when I touched it, it seems to be made of steel netting.
The Celebrating the Familiar sculptures work best in the plazas, because of how they really did seem to mingle well with the many people sitting or strolling through there already. One woman was concerned about a sculpture wearing a sweater, remarking, "She's gotta be hot—it's summer!"
On the other hand, the Marilyn Monroe sculpture felt more gimmicky (though it does reference a classic NYC movie scene), probably because more people wanted to pose with it. I ended up taking photographs for more than a few people who trusted me with their smartphones. But overall, it was fun to see people do double takes and poke the sculptures to see if they were hard or soft.
Johnson's sculptures will be in the Garment District through September 15th.